The Dairy Aisle Wars: Episode 1, The Soy Story

milk-can-3098866As a young child, I remember taking walking trips with my mother, from home to the dairy. At the time, raising cows was permitted within city limits. We would take our empty can and hand it to the milkman. Soon enough, the can was handed back to my mom filled with warm, frothy milk that we had just seen being milked from a cow. I could barely wait to get home and get a taste of this gift from the holy cow; mother cow.

Cut to the present. I am yet to write a grocery list without milk featuring on it. When I moved to New York in 2008, it the first time I was introduced to the concept of whole vs 2% vs 1% vs non-fat milk. Now, as a practicing Pediatrician, I am aware of the range of options available to families in the “dairy” aisle. Some families don’t buy milk due to allergies, some due to choice, and some because they don’t like how it tastes! In the next few posts, I will start to compare and contrast all the products that are called milk. This time, it will be Soy milk. By definition, milk is “an opaque white fluid rich in fat and protein, secreted by female mammals for the nourishment of their young”. By that standard, Soy milk is not really milk. Soy milk is made from soybeans and filtered water. Like other plant-based milk alternatives, it may contain thickeners to improve consistency and shelf life.

Cow’s Milk

The Upside: Whole milk is cow’s milk with all of its components intact. Each cup of whole milk contains 8 grams of fat, 8.5 percent nonfat milk solids, and 88 percent water. The only difference between this and the various degrees of fat-reduced milk is in the fat content and hence the calories content. As none of the milk’s natural components are removed, it is high in natural proteins, fat, calcium, and vitamin D. Cow’s milk comes fortified with vitamin D over and above what it naturally contains

Lactose is the sugar naturally present in cow’s milk. Lactose-free milk is processed to break down this sugar so that people with lactose intolerance can consume it. Lactose-free milk continues to have all the other nutritional properties that regular milk does.

The Flip side: Cow’s milk cannot be consumed by vegans and those with milk-protein allergy. Consuming full-fat milk can be harmful to people who are required to avoid cholesterol. The way that cows are raised and milked produces ethical issues and can add unwanted hormones in the milk.

Soy Milk

The Upside: One cup of unsweetened soy milk has about 80 to 100 calories, 4 grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of fat and 7 grams of protein. It provides about the same amount of protein as cow’s milk while having fewer calories. Being that it is sourced from plants, soy milk is naturally free of cholesterol and low in saturated fat. It also contains no lactose, so an alternative to lactose-free milk for those with lactose intolerance. When fortified, it contains the same amount of calcium as cow’s milk.

The Flip side: Soy is a common allergen for both adults and children. In fact, the protein in soy is similar in structure to that in cow’s milk and often people with cow’s milk allergy are also allergic to soy. Too much soy may be a problem for people with thyroid conditions. In people with previously normal thyroid function, it affects the action of iodine and impairs the absorption of thyroid hormone supplement in people with hypothyroidism. Soy beans contain phyto-estrogens, which has an action similar to human estrogen in our body. As shown by a study done at Harvard, it may lead to infertility in men. Most of the soy produced in the United States comes from genetically modified plants, which is a concern to some. Although fortified soy milk contains calcium, its availability to our body for use is not as good as cow’s milk.

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No clear winner here. Either in moderation seems to be a good choice. What’s your poison?





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